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10 Negotiation Myths Busted by Chris Voss

Negotiation is one of the most written about subjects in the world of selling where conventional wisdom often reigns supreme. However, Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator turned negotiation expert, challenges these commonly held beliefs with his contrarian approach.

Through his extensive experience and research, Voss has identified and debunked several negotiation myths that could be holding you back from achieving optimal results at the bargaining table.

Myth 1: Ask good questions – False Conventional wisdom suggests that asking probing questions is key to gathering information and understanding your counterpart’s position. However, Voss argues that questions can create friction and lengthen the negotiation process. Instead, he advocates for the use of labels, which he describes as a more effective way to gather information and develop rapport without causing resistance.

Labels are essentially verbal acknowledgments or reflections of the emotions, thoughts, or needs expressed by the other party. They serve to validate the other person’s perspective and demonstrate empathy, which can help build trust and facilitate open communication.

For example, if the other party expresses frustration about a certain aspect of the negotiation, you might respond with a label like, “It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated because you feel that your concerns haven’t been addressed.” This simple label acknowledges the other person’s emotions and helps them feel heard and understood.

Labels are powerful because they show that you are actively listening and paying attention to the other party’s concerns. They can also uncover underlying issues or motivations that may not have been explicitly stated, leading to deeper insights and opportunities for finding mutually beneficial solutions.

Labels are a communication tool used by Chris Voss and others to demonstrate empathy, build rapport, and foster understanding in negotiations. They play a key role in creating a positive negotiation environment and can contribute to achieving successful outcomes.

Myth 2: Listen twice as much as you speak – False The idea that listening is more important than speaking in negotiations is challenged by Voss. He believes that visual cues and other senses can provide valuable information beyond verbal communication. By utilising all available senses, negotiators can gain deeper insights into their counterpart’s intentions and motivations.

In negotiation, paying attention to visual cues allows you to gain insight into the other party’s emotional state, level of engagement, and underlying motivations, often complementing what is being said verbally. For example:

  1. Body Language: Observing whether the other party is leaning in attentively or displaying signs of discomfort or defensiveness can give you clues about their level of interest and receptiveness to your proposals.
  2. Facial Expressions: Facial expressions such as smiles, frowns, or raised eyebrows can provide insight into the other party’s emotional reactions to certain topics or proposals.
  3. Eye Contact: The level and quality of eye contact can convey confidence, sincerity, or evasiveness, offering clues about the other party’s trustworthiness and intentions.
  4. Posture: Whether the other party is sitting upright and confidently or slouching and withdrawn can indicate their level of comfort and assertiveness in the negotiation.
  5. Gestures: Hand movements and gestures can emphasize points, express agreement or disagreement, or signal openness or defensiveness.

Myth 3: Do Your Homework – False While extensive research before negotiations may seem like a smart move, Voss argues that the most valuable information comes from interactions at the negotiation table. Relying too heavily on pre-negotiation research can be problematic, as it may lead to missed opportunities or inaccurate assumptions about the other party’s priorities.

Myth 4: Know Your Leverage – False The concept of leverage is questioned by Voss, who suggests that focusing on influence rather than leverage is more effective in negotiations. Leverage, according to Voss, is akin to the ability to inflict harm, and its effectiveness can vary depending on the perspective of the parties involved.

Myth 5: Be willing to compromise – False Contrary to popular belief, Voss argues against compromise, claiming that it leads to resentment and is ultimately detrimental in the long term. Instead, he advocates for a more assertive approach that priorities achieving one’s objectives without sacrificing key interests.

Myth 6: Anchor high – False The strategy of starting negotiations with a high anchor is challenged by Voss, who suggests that extreme anchoring can drive away potential deals. Instead, he recommends finding terms beyond price that can make a deal successful, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of rigid negotiation tactics.

Anchoring is a cognitive bias where people rely heavily on the first piece of information they receive (the “anchor”) when making decisions. In negotiation, the party that sets the initial offer or position effectively sets the anchor point around which the negotiation revolves. Extreme anchoring involves setting this initial anchor at an exaggerated or extreme level, often far beyond what is reasonable or expected.

The idea behind extreme anchoring is to push the boundaries of what the other party perceives as possible or acceptable, thereby influencing their perception of value and their willingness to make concessions. By setting a high anchor, the negotiating party hopes to shift the perceived zone of possible agreement (ZOPA) more in their favor, potentially leading to a more favorable outcome.

However, extreme anchoring can be a risky strategy. While it may yield positive results in some cases, it can also backfire if the other party perceives the initial offer as unreasonable or if it damages trust and rapport. Additionally, setting an extreme anchor may lead to deadlock or impasse if the other party refuses to engage with such an unrealistic position.

Extreme anchoring is a negotiation tactic where one party sets an initial offer or position at an exaggerated level in order to influence the negotiation in their favour. While it can be effective in certain situations, it carries risks and requires careful consideration of the potential consequences.

Myth 7: Know your BATNA – False The concept of having a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is challenged by Voss, who suggests that relying too heavily on a safety net can limit one’s negotiating power. Instead, he encourages negotiators to focus on creating value and exploring creative solutions to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

Myth 8: Agree on criteria – False Voss questions the value of using outside criteria in negotiations, arguing that it can either hinder or limit one’s ability to secure a better deal. Instead, he suggests focusing on the underlying interests and priorities of the parties involved to identify areas of common ground and potential agreement.

Myth 9: Negotiate “Win/Win” Deals and meet people halfway – False The popular “win/win” mindset is criticised by Voss, who suggests that it can be exploited by cutthroat negotiators. Instead, he advocates for a more assertive approach that priorities one’s own interests while still seeking to understand and address the concerns of the other party.

Chris Voss challenges the notion of “win/win” negotiation because he believes it can be exploited by cutthroat negotiators and may not always lead to the best outcomes for all parties involved. Here’s why he views the “win/win” mindset unfavorably:

  1. Potential for exploitation: Voss suggests that the idea of “win/win” can be manipulated by skilled negotiators to their advantage. They may use this approach to lull the other party into a false sense of security while secretly aiming to maximize their own gains at the expense of the other party.
  2. Misrepresentation of intentions: Negotiators who claim to seek a “win/win” outcome may actually have ulterior motives or hidden agendas. They may use this rhetoric as a smokescreen to conceal their true intentions and gain the upper hand in negotiations.
  3. Encourages concession: The “win/win” mindset may lead negotiators to prioritize compromise and concession in pursuit of a mutually beneficial outcome. However, Voss argues that excessive compromise can weaken one’s position and erode their leverage, ultimately undermining their ability to achieve their objectives.
  4. Lack of assertiveness: Embracing a “win/win” approach may discourage negotiators from asserting their interests and advocating strongly for their own needs. Voss advocates for a more assertive negotiation style that prioritises assertiveness and self-advocacy while still seeking to understand and address the concerns of the other party.

“The sweetest words in any negotiation are actually ‘That’s right’

The win-win mindset pushed by so many negotiation experts is usually ineffective and often disastrous.”

– Chris Voss

Myth 10: Identify Common Ground – False Finally, Voss challenges the idea of finding common ground in negotiations, arguing that tactical empathy, which involves understanding the other party’s perspective, is a more effective approach. By acknowledging and validating the other party’s emotions and concerns, negotiators can build trust and rapport, ultimately leading to more successful outcomes.

Voss’s background in hostage negotiation provides him with a deep understanding of human behavior under pressure. Instead of relying solely on conventional wisdom, he advocates for a more nuanced approach that takes into account the complexities of human psychology and emotion. By challenging negotiators to think beyond the standard playbook, Voss encourages them to tap into their intuition and adapt their strategies to the unique dynamics of each negotiation.

You can watch out full interview with Chis Voss here


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